Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Lost Isles




((Reading this, you'll notice that I use the term "glutts" instead of pygmies.  I was rather disturbed by the use of pygmies as a name for an in-game enemy.  The term pygmy (which some consider derogatory) refers to various real-world ethnicities in Central Africa, like the Twa and Mbenga.

I don't for a minute think that this was intentional on Blizzard's part.  Still, it bothered me, and it's my travelogue, so the monsters will be termed glutts.))

*********

“Are you sure this is wise?” rumbled Kaholo.  The massive tauren looked ludicrous, practically curled into a ball to keep his head from hitting the low wooden ceiling.  We waited in the cabin of Nozgil’s Profit, a Bilgewater courier ship that Skorg had assigned to get us to the so-called Lost Isles. 

“We should at least see the capabilities he’s promising.  Our armies are spread thin, and I fear that we will not be able to call them home for some time.  There is no harm in at least visiting.”

“Forgive me if I seem presumptuous, but I do not see the merit in inviting the Bilgewater Cartel into the Horde.  They are greedy, they are deceitful, and they do not respect the spirits.  How can our shamans expect to be heard if the warchief welcomes the Trade Prince?  You saw the devastation of their homeland.”

Skorg held up his hand, a bar of light from the electric lamp across his face.  Outside, torrential rain beat down on the cabin’s metal roof, the air inside hot and stale.

“I too am a shaman.  There is no doubt that these Bilgewater goblins are cowards.  Perhaps we can make them brave, teach them honor.  We orcs were once many times worse than Gallywix and his ilk.”

“The Horde’s efforts to teach its ways have not always been successful,” said Kaholo.  I looked down at my feet, suddenly embarrassed. 

“Surely the advantages offered by the Bilgewater Cartel outweigh any spiritual disruption?” said Shaluran, his brow dripping with sweat.  He took another draught from his glass, half-full of red wine.

“The Horde needs the spirits, ambassador, as much as your own people need the arcane,” said Skorg, his voice tempered by forced calm.  Shaluran shrugged, and took another drink.

“I agree with Shaluran,” said Haluk, the scarred orc shifting in his seat as he spoke.  “I am no shaman, but the ancestors would look down on us in shame if we ignored a strategic advantage.”

“The demons also gave us an advantage, youngling,” growled Skorg.

“Are you mad?  Are you telling me that you think these puny whelps are the equal of the Burning Legion?  You cannot possibly compare the two!”

Watching orcs argue is always a nerve-wracking affair.  Opponents must create the impression that they might lapse into violence at any moment.  It should not be surprising that these impressions can quickly turn into reality.  The constant escalation makes it harder to back down, the idea being that only an orc that truly believes what he says will be willing to risk a fight over it.  As both Skorg and Haluk were diplomats, the night passed without any broken noses or bruised fists, though I could not exactly call it peaceful. 

Business obligations had prevented Gallywix from going with us to the Lost Isles.  Instead, he sent his lieutenant, Gozzig, to be our guide.  Gozzig painted a glowing picture of the Lost Isles, saying that the facilities represented the future of industry and a new hope for the entire goblin race.

“The Lost Isles have the last untapped kaja’mite reserves on Azeroth!  Controlling this place puts all of Kezan in Bilgewater’s—and by extension, the Horde’s—pocket,” he had crowed.

I got my first sight of the Lost Isles the next morning, a cloudy mountain on the horizon.  Borrowing a pair of brass binoculars from a crewman, I looked through to see a wealth of green on the slopes.  The Bilgewater Cartel had not been there very long.

Nozgil’s Profit circled the island to its north shore, puffing towards a floating city of metal platforms connected to the shore, reaching it by sunset.  Black smog floated over the facility, fed by smokestacks built into the face of the central mountain.  Overhead, a sky the color of dying flame slowly darkened into night.  Gozzig herded us onto the prow, his words tripping over each other as he described the port.



“As you can see, Trade Prince Gallywix has made every effort to insure that this will be the finest, biggest, and most efficient kaja’mite mining facility in the entire world.  What you’re seeing here is just the start.  We’ve already started tunneling deep into Lost Peak.  The distilleries and manufacturing platforms on the shore are just about ready to go!”

“Why build it so far from Kezan?” I asked.

“To make sure no other cartel sticks its nose into our business.  These green specks in the ocean are called the Lost Isles because nobody’s heard of them up until a year ago.  We’re real close to the Maelstrom, and ships don’t like to go in these waters if they can help it.”

The vessel came to a gentle stop alongside a long wooden dock, the planks groaning under the weight of unpacked cargo.  Gozzig bit his lip, yellow eyes searching the shore.  As the crew set up the gangplank, a trio of goblin executives nearly ran towards the ship, followed by one servant carrying a tray of snacks and another holding a plate of flute glasses filled with white wine.

“My name is Joddek Lognuz, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to the Lost Peak Mining Facility!” proclaimed the lead goblin, a dapper sort in the process of taking off his straw boater, revealing neatly combed yellow hair.  “It’s my pleasure to show you the latest that the Bilgewater Cartel has to offer.”

Grinning he looked up at Gozzig, who frowned almost imperceptibly.

“The Horde accepts your invitation,” said Skorg, stepping down the gangplank without waiting for Gozzig.  The executive nodded, smiling again at Gozzig as he stepped to the side.  Goblins dressed in the red bellboy uniforms I’d seen in the Grand Exchange ran onto the ship, looking a bit too grimy and tough for their outfits.

“My boys here will take your things.  Now, Lost Peak is a place to work, not a place to relax, but we goblins know how to live in style no matter the circumstances!  Because your enjoyment is so important to the Bilgewater Cartel, we’ve constructed a hotel specially for your visit.”

“This is truly an honor,” replied Skorg, his face unreadable.

Joddek took us to what was essentially a two-story cube made of limestone.  Hastily applied beige paint covered most of the front wall, and the visible streaks made the place look somehow diseased. 

“This fine hotel has a room for each and every one of you, plus a serving staff that can’t wait to make your stay a memorable one,” he continued.

The hotel’s interior did not inspire much confidence.  Little in the way of furniture existed in the bare stone rooms.  Rust-colored water poured out from dented tin faucets, and mildew had already begun its slow conquest of a tiny bedroom on the second story.  I volunteered to occupy that one.  I’d slept in far worse places.

Saying that he needed to attend to matters elsewhere in the facility, Joddek made a quick escape, leaving us with Gozzig.  The goblin scowled as he surveyed his surroundings, his hands tightened into little green fists.

“I am sincerely sorry for this poor excuse for a hotel.  I know that this looks bad, but it is not representative of the Bilgewater Cartel.  I will have a long talk with the managerial staff here in the Lost Peak Facility, and I’ll fire anyone you want me to.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Skorg.

“Pardon me, ambassador, but this really can’t go unpunished.”

“We orcs put little stock into sleeping in overstuffed beds in rooms too full of furniture.  If anything, this hotel is quite to my liking.”

“We’re diplomats, not weaklings,” added Shaluran, who looked amused at the whole thing.

“Oh.  On that case, I’ll see about some promotions.”

“How much of this island has been explored?  It is a beautiful place,” said Skorg.

“I’ll have to check on that.  We’ve got a lot on our itinerary, but I’m sure we can make some time for a tour.  Now, all kaja’mite on this island legally belongs to the Bilgewater Cartel, but we can give you a very good deal on lumber rights—“

“Relax, Gozzig.”

Bilgewater wait staff served us dinner on a wooden table just outside the hotel, a meal consisting of white wine and freshly caught fish.  While our rooms were a bit lacking, the food was apparently of high quality.  I talked one of the servers, a woman named Nolly Keztrij, trying to learn more about life on the Lost Isles.  As a low-ranking employee, I do not think she could speak freely, though she mentioned that she usually worked as a machinist.



“Are there many debt slaves in the facility?”

“No, sir.  Debt slaves cost a lot of money to feed and house, and the Cartel’s resources would be better spent elsewhere.  We use hobgoblins instead.”

“Could you tell me a bit about them?”

“Well, it’s not really my field, but I can tell you what I know.  Some alchemist centuries back cooked up the hobs.  It’s basically a punishment for debt slaves who betray their masters, or for goblins who kill without cartel sanction.  We use them for jobs that need a lot of physical labor, and not a lot of thought.”

“Is the process reversible?” I asked, almost too horrified to respond.

“Of course not.  They’re easier to take care of than debt slaves.  Hobs can eat just about anything, even grass.  They’re not always easy to control—an angry hob is not something you want to see—but the overseers know what they’re doing.  Did you know they sweat acid?”

“No.”

“It only happens when they get really mad.”

“Are hobgoblins common?"

“No, like I said, we use them when we need muscle.  They only live three years or so, meaning that they die before they can get that good at anything.  Sir, if I may offer some advice…”

“Uh, all right.”

“Keep your distance from them.  We have them under control, but you’d be surprised what can set them off.”

My introduction to the hobgoblins did not improve my negative disposition towards the Bilgewater Cartel.  I’d never seen hobgoblins before my visit to Kezan.  I learned later that the Steamwheedle Cartel uses them only sparingly.  While the Steamwheedle has no moral compunction against them, they find hobgoblins more trouble than they’re worth.

*********

In truth, even the finest hotel would have looked shabby compared to the grandeur just beyond the facility.  Meadows of emerald grass gleam wet from the frequent rains, punctured by the bright reds and purples of innumerable flowers.  Trees grow in dense profusions, mighty hardwoods where vine curtains hang from gnarled branches, next to more primitive specimens crowned by fern-like growths of broad and saw-toothed leaves.

The rumbling machine sounds of the docks fade away on the hills, and I listened to the raucous tropical song ringing out in all its glory.  Birds flew as blurs of vivid color, their chirps intermingling with choruses of snappy croaks and monkey screeches.  Above this panorama, white clouds floated through the sky’s dizzying blue expanse, the warm air soaked through with life.

I spent the next day exploring the Lost Peak Facility while my companions recovered from the journey’s rigors.  The congested port is the administrative center, complete with a handful of company shops that sell overpriced goods to employees.  To the west is a muddy lumberyard, a collection of tents through which passes a rail that connects to the mine.  Finally, there is the KTC oil platform, a chaotic tangle of pumps and smokestacks.

I wanted very badly to speak with a hobgoblin, but refrained from fear of causing a diplomatic incident.  If as volatile as Nolly had claimed, I might unwittingly upset one.  Simple observation seemed to justify her opinion, though I could not get much context from only watching.  I did observe hobgoblins engaging in fights with each other, short and brutal affairs that never seemed to inflict much lasting damage.  Like the ogres that they resemble, the hobgoblins are a tough and resistant breed.  Then again, perhaps the lack of lasting injury demonstrates a level of restraint.

Some hobgoblins even act as valets, carrying the personal possessions of high-ranking goblins.  I learned that Gallywix would give the more intelligent hobgoblins as gifts to promising executives.  I wondered if the hobgoblins might act as spies for the trade prince, though that seemed unlikely.  A few of the valet hobgoblins seemed nearly inseparable from their masters, following them like bulky shadows even when there was no obvious need.  Iron chains hang around their thick and calloused necks, decorated by a single polished bolt.  These symbolize the hobgoblin’s servitude, and the bolt is engraved with the owner’s name.

Slavery is an abomination that the Horde shamefully tolerates.  Numerous rules exist to limit the practice, but they are rarely followed.  Officially, only prisoners from universally hostile groups such as naga, quilboar, and centaurs are permitted (which is still heinous).  In reality, Alliance prisoners of war often end up in the slave pens, their kidnappers writing them off as pirates or rogues.  Thrall has spoken against slavery, but has done little to stop it.  As is too often the case with our warchief, he has chosen to take half-measures.  Only the tauren seem particularly inclined to put an end to it.

Gozzig gave us a tour of the mines a day later.  Still under construction, we watched (from a distance) as a mobile drill bored a tunnel through the earth, the surrounding rock glowing red from friction.  Hobgoblins keep the work area free of clutter, filling carts with rubble and pushing them to the unsightly slag heaps outside of the mine.

Green kaja’mite veins run through the rock, glowing faintly in the subterranean darkness.  Bruisers search every worker going out of the facility, checking for smuggled ore.



To be fair, the mine itself appeared reasonably safe, certainly no worse than the existing Horde mines.  By claiming such a large stock of kaja’mite, the KTC (and by extension, the Bilgewater Cartel) would continue to net significant revenue.  This was another reason for the secrecy of the Lost Isles; they did not want it to be known that kaja’mite was less scarce than most goblins believed.

Gozzig mentioned that the island was built around an active volcano, but that most of the kaja’mite would be mined before it erupted.  He assured us that Bilgewater shamans were in constant consultation with geothermal spirits, and would be able to warn the authorities several months before any incident could occur.

Security is a major concern in the Lost Isles.  Employees are sworn to secrecy upon pain of slavery (and almost certain conversion into hobgoblin status).  That Gallywix would show it to the Horde suggested he was quite certain of being accepted, despite his somewhat dismissive treatment of us back on Kezan.

For all the worries about intelligence leaks, there seem to be other problems as well.  Barricades surround the facility, mounted chain-guns facing the emerald wilderness.  The Bilgewater Cartel even went so far as to hire a security firm specializing in tropical warfare.

Zidinee Wrenglin was the captain of the mercenaries.  Her turquoise hair tied up in a bun to keep her vision clear, her uniform spic and span, she looked almost too professional for her employers.  She’d worked with the Horde in the past (as had her mother, who’d fought in the Battle of Grim Batol during the Second War), and was happy to give me some of her time.

I joined Zidinee on one of her patrols, the young goblin armed with a rifle and a semi-tamed tiger.  The jungle enveloped us, a thousand green things growing from the black volcanic soil.  Stately bamboo groves thrive on the slopes, mingling with the great trees.  Heliotropes abound in sunny clearings, while palms sway in cool oceanic winds.



“This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever worked at,” she said, taking in a deep breath of the damp and flowery air.  “Even Joddek loves the jungle; Kezanites like him usually don’t care.”

“The facility administrator?”

“He’s the one who hired us.  The man’s got an eye for talent.  My crew proved their worth in Stranglethorn, fighting the Bloodscalps and Gurubashi.  Bilgewater doesn’t like to hire outside of its own ranks, but they made an exception for us.”

“Why did they need to hire you?  I’ve asked a few; most say it’s simply a precaution, but I find it hard to believe that they’d spend so much money unless there was an actual threat in the jungle.”

She gave me a wry smile. 

“I’m not technically allowed to say… but you’re right, there is a threat.  We’ve got it under control.”

“What exactly lives on the island, if I may ask?”

“Glutts.  Nasty bunch, like gnolls, but they’re not a problem.  I will say that Joddek was a lot faster on the uptake than Gallywix, hired us right away.  In Bilgewater, getting anything done is more a matter of calling in favors than doing what’s necessary.  Gallywix knows Joddek is talented, and fears him for it.”

“You’re being remarkably candid here.”

“Joddek hired us, not Gallywix.  Even says so, right on the contract.  Gallywix didn’t tell anyone here about your visit; he wired a telegram a few days before you got here.  That’s why the hotel’s so shabby.”

“Wouldn’t that make Gallywix look bad by extension?”

“He can just blame it on Joddek.”

“If Gallywix hates Joddek so much, why not just fire him?  The trade prince seems to have almost absolute power.”

“He doesn’t.  Talent goes a long way, and people won’t be happy if the Bilgewater doesn’t turn a profit.  There are a couple of executives that have Gallywix worried: Joddek, Mida Silvertongue, this up-and-comer at KTC whose name I can’t remember, maybe some others.  He needs their talent, so he wants to make them look bad enough that he can always control them.”

“If Gallywix failed to turn a profit, what would happen?”

“The other Bilgewater bosses would shove him aside, maybe with lethal force.  No guarantee that they’d succeed, but it’s still not a fight that Gallywix wants to deal with.  A trade prince is like one of the old human kings; has to worry about nobles.”

“Goblins had kings once, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, over a thousand years ago.  The last king sold his title and used the proceeds to start one of the strongest early trade groups.”

“It does seem like you’re taking quite a risk in telling me all this.”

“None of us wants Gallywix in the Horde.  If he gets the warchief’s support, it’ll be that much harder to give him the boot.  Besides, you’ve got a good reputation, Destron.  I know you won’t turn us in.”

“How do you know about me?”

“You’re not famous, but you do seem to appear in a lot of different places.  Whenever you show up, you generally make a decent impression.  Joddek told me to let you know about this, and ask you to tell your boss.  From what we know of Skorg, he doesn’t like Gallywix either.”

“I will let him know.”

“Thank you.”

“Does Joddek want to become the trade prince of Bilgewater?”

“No, Bilgewater’s a wreck, gone in the teeth.  He’s going to strike out on his own; I’ll be going with him.  Joddek’s a good guy to know.”

We returned to the Lost Peak Facility in the late afternoon, and I thanked Zidinee for her time.  I had a curious encounter before retiring for the night.  I saw Joddek walk into a low wooden building, his hands in his pockets and his posture slumped.   I went forward to say hello, but stopped when I heard voices from inside.

“Gallywix’s trying to make me look bad!  Zidinee says the Horde won’t like him, but fact is I’m trapped here and am looking worse by the second!  What’ll I do if Gallywix gets into the Horde?  Buys Azshara like he’s always talking about; that place is brimming with untapped resources.”

“You make money, like always.  Give me good work to do.”

The other voice spoke in a crawl, the words thick and slurred.  Risking a glance through the window, I saw Joddek talking to a purple-skinned hobgoblin.

“Heh.  I guess I will.  Thanks, Nog; it’s good to have someone who’ll always believe in me.  Sometimes I really need it.  Here, uh, get yourself something good to eat.”

Brute strength is apparently not the only application for hobgoblins.

*********

While Joddek had laid his own claim to the facility’s security forces, the local shaman was firmly in Gallywix’s pocket.  Named Gring Gullgoz, he spent most of his day on the docks, drinking coffee and playing both sides of a single backgammon set.  As we talked, his bloodshot eyes kept looking out to the ocean.

“As a shaman, your responsibility is to make deals with the spirits, correct?”

“Something like that.  Goblins don’t have the same, ah, spiritual sense that tauren do.  We take certain chemicals to enhance the process.”

“How often?”

“Get an injection every year or so.  Not a bad bargain.”

“What sorts of deals did you make here on the Lost Isles?”

“Just one; I’m so good, that’s all I needed!  I told some earth spirits that we’d limit our presence on the island so long as we got advance warning of any eruptions.  The spirits said they’d do everything to the best of their ability, and we got investor approval!”

“You did not talk with any others?”

“No need.  Shamanistic certification goes a long way.  It’s practically a requirement if you want to get money for a new facility.  Used to be that most shamans were freelance, and would have to talk to a hundred obnoxious spirits and make a dozen deals for each one.  But the Bilgewater boys have it down to a science: just talk to the ones you need to talk to, and everything else takes care of itself.  All of us shamans just follow the plan, and it works great.”

“You don’t compete with each other?”

“For influence and connections, sure, but not in shamanism itself.  We all follow the same plan; anyone gets too good for the rest of us, we take him down a peg, if you get my drift.”

“Bilgewater doesn’t object to this attitude?”

“Why should they?  They get investor confidence, we get a good job.”

“But with better shamans, investor confidence might increase.”

“Look, I have certification.  That’s all that really matters.  Yeah, there’s a few shamans still into the whole communing with the spirits thing, but that takes time, which no one has.”

I heard a sound like thunder from somewhere behind the mountain, and looked up to the clear sky.  Another rumble followed, and then another, proceeding at regular intervals.  Gring’s pointed ears suddenly pricked up, his eyes going wide.

“That can’t be!” he sputtered.

“What happened?”

“It’s the glutts!  It’s only been a few months since their last attack, it can’t be happening again so soon!”

The shaman was not alone in his panic; goblins everywhere suddenly shouted warnings and ran about the base.  Security forces sprang into action, organizing the frantic employees.

I reported to Skorg, who had been meditating at the edge of the facility.  While not fond of the Bilgewater Cartel, he ordered me to participate in the defense.

“The spirits bear no love for these glutts,” he said, by way of explanation.

“Gring didn’t mention anything about that.”

“Gring is incompetent.  Let us prepare!” 

Zidinee took me and several others to her office, where she explained what she knew about the glutts.  Blurry photographs covered the walls, framing tactical maps of the facility.  Examining the photos, I saw enormous teeth bared in rictus grins, long and muscular arms attached to emaciated bodies.  The glutts resemble twisted versions of the great apes found in Stranglethorn and Un’goro.  Only vestigial fur remains, tangled splotches on dirty skin.

“At first, we thought the disappeared surveying teams had just gotten lost or ran into accidents.  It’s a dense jungle, and anything could happen.  That was until we found the remains of a team.  Torn to little pieces, their skulls and spines hanging from branches.  They didn’t go without a fight; there were five dead glutts around the bodies.”

“How many glutts are there?”

“Hard to say, but enough to throw hundreds at us in every major attack.  As far as we can tell, they constantly kill each other so that they don’t all die of starvation, and they still go hungry.  Very prolific species.  Every few months, they work themselves into a big frenzy.  You hear it before you see it, huge drums booming in the mountaintop.  Then they all come screaming out of the jungle.  No hesitation, no self-preservation.

“When they do this, they destroy whole swaths of the island.  Seems like they’ll gnaw the bark off of trees in their frenzy.  Anything that gets in a glutt’s way goes down, even if it’s another glutt.  So many of them die that it frees up the food resources, and they breed a new generation.  Glutts don’t live very long, even less than hobs as far as we know.”

“That still sounds like it’d be difficult to maintain a population that way.”

“The jungle does grow back pretty quickly.  Look, we could be totally off with this; I’m not a naturalist.  This is just as near as we can tell.”

“Where in the island to they live?”

“Villages in the interior.  Somehow, they don’t destroy those.  The houses are actually pretty solid, look as if they’ve been built up for a long time over the centuries.  You can see some pictures on the wall there.”

She pointed to a photograph showing a trio of circular stone huts.  The craftsmanship of the masonry actually appeared relatively sophisticated.  A roof designed to look like a tortoise’s shell capped each hut, and great igneous spikes stuck out from odd angles.  Other pictures showed structures made of bone and bamboo.




“I can’t believe I survived taking those photos,” she said, shaking her head.  “It was right after the second attack, and glutts were sleeping all around the island, fat from gorging.  When they sleep like that, a lot of predators pick them off.  I guess it keeps the population at a manageable size.

“If they attack tonight, they’ll do it as a wave.  Nothing will scare them.  We usually set up food storage sheds on the perimeter.  This will distract some, and they’ll just stuff themselves; we can kill them the next morning.  But most will try to get into the facility.

“Keep them at a distance as long as you can.  If they get close, it’s not going to go well for you.  They may not look like much, but I’ve seen them tear full-grown men to pieces, tear them apart like they were fish.”

“With all due respect, Zidinee, we are not goblins,” chuckled Haluk.

“Neither were all of their victims.  We had an orcish mercenary as big as you who ended up like that.”

“Huh,” grunted Haluk.

“I’ll send some fire teams out into the forest.  Opening up on their flanks is a good way to thin their numbers, though it doesn’t have any psychological effect.”

“Won’t they be overwhelmed?” I asked.

“Not if they hide themselves.  The rest of you should stay at the barricades, and just throw everything you have at the glutts.  We have the advantage here, but people will die.  So be careful.”

"How often do the glutts normally attack?"

"We thought it happened every four months or so, but the last one happened just three months previous.  Maybe they're getting more aggressive.  Maybe not enough of them died in the last frenzy."

We heard the first roiling drumbeats just before sunset, distant bursts of sound from the high slopes.  Goblins throughout the facility looked up as they heard the earth-shaking thumps, hurrying their preparations.  Barricades of wood and scrap metal made a concave line at the south end of the base.  Security guards prepped rifles, and I saw Zidinee directing others to dense groves along the hills.  It occurred to me that at least some glutts must always remain in the villages to play the drums. 

Hollow wails, like winds blasted out of a giant's flute, rolled down the foothills.  They struggled against the drumbeat that guided them, terrible beasts straining at the leashes.  I saw Joddek stride to the front, a revolver in one hand and a saber in the other. 

I stood behind one of the barricades with Haluk and five goblin riflemen.  I heard a vast roar in the distance, like an avalanche gaining speed, and a terrible coldness seized my gut.  Shadows lengthened as the sun disappeared, warm raindrops falling from black evening clouds.  Each second brought them crashing closer to the line, trees breaking under the living tide.

"Something's moving!" cried a goblin.

Sure enough, I saw motion in the darkness ahead, as if a single massive organism was sliding towards us.  I caught impressions of grimacing faces and gnarled arms in the shadows, the ground shaking under the pounding of hundreds of feet, the air thick with their breathing.  If Zidinee's forward troops had opened fire, we could not tell.  The noise, as forceful as some divine weight, drowned out all but the nearest gunfire.

Electric lamps burst into brightness, and at their light the gunners opened up.  Repeaters spat death and the three chain-guns drilled into the swarm, distorted bodies tumbling to the earth, their fellows bounding over the corpses or getting entangled in them.  Sound shook the senses, gunshots and drumbeats blurring into each other, the glutts silent in their furious charge.  I grabbed the barricade to steady myself, the earth quaking like jelly, gunsmoke blotting my vision.

I gathered my energies for a blizzard, hoping to eliminate a few dozen of the creatures.  I sensed the mana activating, the sharpened slivers falling from the sky, but could not see the spell in action or its effect.  Perhaps new fighters had already replaced the ones killed.

Glutts ran down hillsides of their own dead, rushing around the corpse piles unfettered by doubt or fear.  Relentless noise assaulted my ears, the sound almost a physical force trying to press me into the earth.  I saw the goblin next to me starting to droop, as if overwhelmed by the carnage.  I clapped him on the back, giving him a look as encouraging as my dead face would allow.  Nodding, he began reloading his weapon.  I continued summoning up area of effect attacks, hoping they would be enough.

Glutts fell inches away from the blockades, thick hands tearing away at the wooden shells.  One of the guards lost his nerve and ran, followed by another.  There was no way for Zidinee or anyone else to communicate in all the noise.  I saw Haluk putting aside his rifle and readying his ax, muscles tensed.  The first of the glutts leaped over the barricade, a mighty swing from the orc cleaving into his chest and throwing the broken body back into the swarm.

The guard I’d earlier encouraged vanished from sight, pulled into the mass by a single arm.  Another glutt scrambled on top, swinging a notched club that crashed into Haluk’s jaw.  Spitting blood, the orc attacked again, even as another glutt grabbed his leg, pulling it out from under him.  I fired arcane missiles at the glutt nearest me, the shriveled form collapsing under the power.

Disoriented from the pounding noise, I used the last of my mana to blast another glutt with flames.  Haluk struggled to right himself.  A goblin leaned against the barricade in shock, his right shoulder a pulp of flesh and bone, the arm missing. 

I did not first realize that the assault had stopped.  Daring to look over the fortifications, I saw carnage cast in electric light.  Drumbeats still shook the island, but more slowly.  Isolated gunfire echoed in the shadows beyond the perimeter.  I shook where I stood.  To have survived Icecrown only to come so close to death in the Lost Isles…

More lamps turned on, healers tending to the wounded.  Feeling as if I were asleep, I surveyed the site of the battle.  I am no stranger to violence, but what I saw inspired a deep revulsion.  What seemed like a hundred glutt corpses lay scattered across the grass.   In the calm I saw their faces, hungry even in death, driven to oblivion by all-consuming need.  I felt pity and disgust, not triumph.

I learned later that 27 goblins had died in the attack, along with Haluk.  I could have sworn that his wounds had been minor, but I must confess that my recollection of the battle is confused at best.  I had not seen the glutts rip him open and grab his innards. 

No one counted the glutts, though a reasonable estimate tallied up the dead to a little over 200.  Zidinee and Joddek both survived, as had the rest of the diplomats.  Almost no one escaped without wounds.  The glutts use barbed blow darts in battle; I had not heard them over the drums.  Dozens of defenders (or perhaps invaders) had to have the projectiles removed, Skorg and Shaluran among them.

Goblins covered the bodies in pitch and set them alight, the awful bonfire burning well into the morning.  Skorg created a smaller funeral pyre for Haluk, singing mournfully of great deeds as the flames consumed the warrior’s body.  Collecting the ashes in urns, we buried them next to a mighty boulder of black volcanic rock, and laid his shield and ax against the stone.

Later that day, Skorg warned Joddek that the island was itself unstable, a fact that he’d learned from the spirits.  Magma churned beneath the Lost Peak, ready to erupt at even a slight provocation.  Joddek nodded.


           
“Gozzig’s not here, so I’ll give it to you straight: the Bilgewater Cartel’s crooked.  Me and Zidinee are getting out of here as soon as we can.”

None of us was sorry to leave the Lost Isles.

*********

((There's going to be a mini-update that explains what happens between this the Lost Isles and Gilneas. Since it's not a full chapter, I'll put it up on September 7th.  Gilneas City will be added on the 15th.  

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter.  As always, comments are appreciated.))

3 comments:

  1. Just as a slight suggestion, you might want some sort of bridging entry between the Northrend and Cataclysm entries just to explain what happened to Destron post Northrend

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  2. Thanks. I actually uploaded a truncated version of the original epilogue, titled "Alive". This hopefully sets the scene.

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  3. "Upstart from kTC whose Name he can't remember", lol.

    Although I'm not sure where this fits, timeline wise. I was under the impression that the Gobins were unaware of the islands, or at least the Kaja'mite deposits, untill they shipwrecked there, and only established a presence then...

    I suppose you had to think and pick how to time this/ which storylines interested you most, as you could only have the actual cataclysm take place once; Still, I sort of expected to have the Cataclysm take place during this, and later visit Gilneas during something resembling the excursion in the silverpine questline; Still, I suppose this woul've left less opportunity to look at the local culture. Hm. I guess I'll keep reading and see what you did with it.

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